The Dressmaker

[2.0 stars] [IMDB Link] [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

A movie that's been in my Amazon Prime watchlist for quite awhile. Finally decided to get it out of there, since the Red Sox played earlier in the day, and I have zero interest in the Olympics.

Kate Winslet plays Tilly Dunnage, who (in 1951) returns after many years to her small Australian town to (a) wreak vengeance on a wrong done unto her back when she was a kid; (b) solve the mystery of what actually happened back then; (c) perhaps reconcile with Mom (Judy Davis). Who's rather unkempt, physically and mentally.

But nearly everyone in the town is mentally unkempt. Lots of secrets, resentments, perversions and frowned-upon proclivities. Tilly has picked up (see the title) dressmaking skills while she's been away, and her transformation of a town ugly duckling into a beautiful swan earns her some respectability and also cash. In addition, since she looks like Kate Winslet, she attracts the eye of Teddy (Thor's brother Liam Hensworth), perhaps the sanest person in town.

What follows is a lot of zaniness and tragedy. That particular mixture isn't my cup of tea, but you might like it. Hugo Weaving shows up in a supporting role as the town's constable, and—geez, for once—is not an unmitigated villain; he just likes to dress up occasionally.

The Tomorrow War

[3.0 stars] [IMDB Link] [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

Hey, I like Chris Pratt. But he's made better movies. I was slightly disappointed with this Amazon Prime streamer.

He plays war veteran Dan Forester. He's got a hot wife, Emmy. A cute daughter, Muri. And an estranged dad, played by J. K. Simmons. (J. K. Simmons also lulled me into a "Hey, maybe this'll be good" attitude.)

The only problem being that a bunch of human warriors from 50 years in the future transport themselves into an exciting soccer match. And they're here to beg for help: in their time, a race of alien beings known as "whitespikes" are in the process of wiping out humanity. "Help us, past humans, you're our only hope." There's a discussion of the time-travel mechanism; it has complexities and limitiations, all of which are conveniently tailored to the plot.

The first batch of volunteers return mostly dead. As do their followups. Eventually, the process goes to conscription: folks who are gonna die soon anyway. And guess who gets roped in? Ah, good guess.

So Dan's off to the future, and it's grim. Due to a technical screwup, his group gets transported to Miami about a thousand feet too high. Which kills most of them right off the bat. But Dan is fortunate enough to fall into a swimming pool atop a highrise. (Which in reality would be deadly, but is treated here as a very high dive.) He's sent off to retrieve important research from a local lab, which involves a lot of running, shooting, and explosions. We finally get a look at the whitespikes, and they're as fast, ugly, and deadly as CGI can make them. Even with rifles with a near-infinite number of rounds, the humans are fighting a losing battle.

Hey, that's Chloe from 24! … Alas, she turns out to not be a major enough character.

The movie turns out to have a streak of gooey sentimentality at its center, a theme of familial abandonment and reconciliation. Worse than Armageddon in that regard.

Time travel movies have to deal with paradoxical issues, multiple futures, etc. I'm sure some nerd has classified the various approaches. This one seems to be similar to Back to the Future: stuff you do in the past can alter the future timeline, wiping out the previous version of events. So you can probably guess what the climax involves.

Last Modified 2021-07-21 5:54 AM EDT

Good on Paper

[2.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Good on Paper]

I've liked Iliza Shlesinger for a number of years, since I got hooked on her standup comedy specials on Netflix. Very funny, insightful, and (sorry kiddos) extremely raunchy. So I decided to take a chance on this Netflix-streamable movie. She wrote it, and she's the star, so…

The character she plays isn't much of a stretch: Andrea, a standup comic looking to break into acting. (Unfortunately, based on the excerpts we see from Andrea's routines, she's not nearly as funny as Iliza.) She's in her mid-thirties, and her professional life has overshadowed her romantic life, her relationships seem to be fleeting and shallow. Her best friend is Margot (played by Margaret Cho), lesbian bar owner, who keeps urging her to settle down before it's too late.

So Andrea meets this guy Dennis at the airport. And Dennis is charming in a dorky way. He's a Yale graduate, he's a hedge fund manager, he's got a house in Beverly Hills. Or at least (a spoiler you can pick up from the preview clip) that's what he claims. The movie follows their rocky relationship.

It's occasionally funny, but credibility is strained about two-thirds in when Andrea turns into a detective trying to find out the truth about Dennis, without wrecking their relationship. The movie claims to be based on Iliza's own experience, but I have a hard time believing that she could be as dumb as Andrea.

Last Modified 2021-07-21 6:15 AM EDT


[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Luca]

Thanks to our Disney+ subscription, the latest Pixar movie. It's not top-drawer Pixar, but that's still pretty good.

The premise is that sea monsters (intelligent, of course) live just off the coast of a timeless but charning Italian Riviera fishing village. The village's humans have legends of the monsters, viewing them with fear and loathing. And harpoons.

The monsters, for their part, only want to live in peace.

At this point, I think we're supposed to think to ourselves: "Who are the real monsters here, hm?" But, bless them, Pixar does not beat us over the head with this.

The monsters keep another secret under wraps: when they're on dry land, they transform into human form. So it comes as a shock to young monster Luca when this (more or less) accidentally happens to him. Fortunately, he comes under the wing flipper of young Alberto, a sea monster who's taken up land-living on his own.

Luca and Alberto become fast friends, become obsessed with young-boy things. Specifically, they become obsessed with getting their hands on a Vespa motor scooter. (They really are things of beauty.) Which draws them into the fishing village, meeting young human girl Giulia. She has a dream of her own, namely winning the yearly village race from the perennial champ (and the movie's villain) Ercole.

Whew. And that's just the beginning.


[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

This movie is based on one of the later Parker novels by "Richard Stark" (Donald Westlake), Flashfire. Jason Statham steps into the role of the amoral antihero with no first name. (Previous actors playing Parker: Lee Marvin, Mel Gibson, Peter Coyote, Robert Duvall. It's made for tough guys.)

Parker is in on a heist at the Ohio State Fair with some thieves. (Right away you notice that Statham's Parker is kind of a softie compared to book-Parker, persuading a frightened security guard into cooperation instead of just shooting him.) But the caper goes well except for a diversionary fire set in the wrong place, leading to bystander casualties. Unfortunately, the gang plans to use the proceeds to finance an even bigger score. Parker objects, leading to serious violence and he's left for dead on the side of a lonely highway.

The end? Of course not. Parker recovers, and immediately sets out to track down the gang that betrayed him. Along the way he meets Leslie (J Lo!), a beautiful but failing real estate agent. She gets involved in his revenge plan, of course. (Otherwise they could have used a much cheaper actress in that role.) And there's an obligatory boob scene, but not J Lo.

It's not bad, not great. A good movie for an evening when there's no Red Sox game.

The Mitchells vs the Machines

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [The Mitchells vs the Machines]

We've been watching a lot of baseball of late. And, thanks to my Disney+ subscription and Roku, I've been re-watching the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. (Rewatched movies don't get blogged.) But the mood to watch something different took me, and I heard good things about this, so…

It's OK. Very funny in spots, draggy in others. The heroine is young Katie Mitchell, who is headed off to college to major in some sort of movie-making. She's bounding with energetic creativeness, and views her family with increasing disdain. Especially Dad, who's increasingly frantic about Katie's independence. So he hatches a desperate scheme: cancel Katie's plane tickets, load the family into the car for one last road trip. Cross-country to Katie's college. To bond.

Things are complicated by a robotic/AI apocalypse.

How does that happen? Well, a Zuckerbergian character in charge of a Facebook/Apple-like company introduces his new product: an army of "helpful" faceless robots. Unfortunately, he snubs his previous product, an AI who takes offense. Who proceeds to wreak havoc on the entire world. That'll teach them! The Mitchells turn out to be humanity's last hope for salvation.

Oh, yeah, Katie's apparently a lesbian. Presented as no big deal. Kids these days.

Last Modified 2021-06-18 10:39 AM EDT

Without Remorse

[1.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

The official title of this movie is apparently Tom Clancy's Without Remorse, but I can't bring myself to use that. The movie's plot bears only a vague resemblance to Clancy's novel.

And the movie is pretty bad on its own. Michael B. Jordan plays Clancy's tough-as-nails hero, John Kelly (soon to become "John Clark"); he was on hand in the Jack Ryan series to perform acts of wanton violence that Jack could not credibly carry out himself. Clancy wrote Without Remorse as his "origin story".

But it starts out in Syria, where Navy SEALS, containing Kelly, are raiding a house suspected to contain ISIS, but instead contains Russians, and a whole lot more resistance than they expected. They blame the squirrelly CIA guy accompanying them; but the actual truth is…

Well, never mind, because when the team gets back to the States, they are targeted for revenge. Kelly survives the attack on his house, but his wife and unborn daughter do not. And that's setup for the rest of the movie, as Kelly works out his revenge. But…

Oh heck, I'll toss things over to Peter Suderman at Reason, who notes the interesting conspiracy. (Spoiler, but who cares?) A Keynesian Warmonger Gets What He Deserves in the Otherwise Awful Without Remorse.

But if you do get the end (and again, spoiler alert) you'll be treated to a monologue by Guy Pearce, playing the Secretary of Defense, who explains that he's been trying to foment a war with Russia by—actually it doesn't matter, but all the nefariously convoluted stuff that happens in the movie, including a hit that resulted in the death of the hero's wife—in order to bring Americans together and pump up the economy.

"You know who won World War II?" he seethes, in one of those explain-your-evil-plan monologues that villains in bad movies often give about eight minutes before the credits roll. "It wasn't the generals or the admirals," he says. "It was the economists."

I had more fun reading Suderman's review than I did watching the movie. (And yes, I foolishly watched the movie after reading the review. Always trust Suderman.)

Last Modified 2021-06-03 9:16 AM EDT

Thunder Force

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Thunder Force]

There are probably a lot of better movies available to me, but (never mind the details) I was in no mood to find them among a plethora of options. So I picked this Netflix streamer off their front page.

Emily and Lydia become buddies in school, where brash and combative Lydia defends shy, studious Emily from the insults and bullying from their fellow classmates. But they have a falling out, and Lydia grows up to be a dockworker (and be played by Melissa McCarthy). Emily (Octavia Spencer) has become a scientist, specializing in…

Well, never mind that, because there's a problem: One of those freaky radioactive space storms has unleashed a wave of mutations upon Earth, giving rise to the "Miscreants", super-powered bad guys. And one of them (for no apparent reason) murdered a bunch of people on a Chicago commuter train, including Emily's parents.

OK, so Emily's out for revenge. Her research leads her to develop the power of invisibility. And through a merry mixup, Lydia gets super-strength and invulnerability. And they are off to fight crime.

This is played mostly for laughs. Bobby Cannavale plays "The King", the evil head of the Miscreants gang, and Jason Bateman is one of his underlings, "The Crab". I'm fuzzy about what superpowers the Crab was supposed to have, but he does have crab claws instead of lower arms. And in one of their early battles, it becomes apparent that he and Lydia might have feelings for each other, and his heart is not entirely black.

There are a lot of goofy lines, some of which work. I can't recommend it, but you might like it if you're in the mood.

Last Modified 2021-04-27 11:19 AM EDT


[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Hamilton]

With our shiny new Disney+ subscription, we watched Hamilton. (I know, Gina Carano. Sorry.) I also know it's a stage play. Still, it was movie-length, so I'm counting it as a "watched movie". It's an impressive effort, watchable all the way through. And I don't really like hip-hop. But as it turned out the songs are less hiphoppy than I feared; the Wikipedia page, the songs also draw from "R&B, pop, soul, and traditional-style show tunes."

It's based on Ron Chernow's biography of Alexander Hamilton, briefly describing his impoverished early life on Nevis, and really gets going with his move to Manhattan in the auspicious year of 1776. (Update: well, that turns out to be off by three years. My bad for believing everything Lin-Manuel Miranda put in his play. See Wikipedia for that quibble and more, some less quibbly.) He gets education, gets acquainted with the local revolutionary firebrands (including Aaron Burr), eventually joins up with George Washington in the Revolutionary War.

His success there jumpstarts his political career; it also sows the seeds of resentment and jealousy among his counterparts. He turns into a Constitutional madman, writing many Federalist Papers in defense of the new plan of government. When the dust settles, he's named the first Secretary of the Treasury, and eventually draws even more ire from Jefferson and (oops) his former friend Aaron Burr. We all know how that turns out.

There are a number of other plot threads involving romance and family, mostly tragic in nature. Comic relief is provided by actors portraying George III, Lafayette, and Jefferson.

The show caused me to try to put Chernow's biography on my get-at-library list. Ack, Portsmouth Public Library seems to lack a copy. What's up with that? Well, if they ever let me back into the UNH Library… .

Last Modified 2021-04-25 10:51 AM EDT


[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Pixar's latest, brought to us via our shiny new Disney+ subscription. (Yes, I know: Gina Carano.)

After the movie, Mrs. Salad echoed what I was thinking: Gee, this really isn't a kid's movie. The protagonist is an adult, confronting subtle adult issues. The meaning of life, for example. It's madly entertaining, full of visual treats and gags, but I can imagine a 12-year-old puzzled by what's going on underneath all that.

Joe is a middle-school music teacher, confronted every day with indifferent talent-free kids. Out of the blue, he gets a chance to divert his life onto its dream path: an audition playing piano with a famed jazz combo. He aces the audition, is on his way home in oblivious ecstasy, when…

He falls into a manhole and (apparently) dies. Whoa.

But then it's off to the afterlife. Which is much less heavenly than I've been led to expect. It's more like a university, with bureaucrats and well-meaning counselors. Joe's reluctance to follow the newly-expired crowd accidently finds him in the pre-life area, where souls are awaiting download into newborns down on Earth. There, he runs into "22", a soul who's actively resisting the normal flow there. She's OK with never moving into a human. Joe hatches a scheme to hitch onto her credentials in order to reanimate his (as it turns out) mostly dead body.

And there's a lot of merry mixups following that. But also some Lessons Learned. Which (I was kind of surprised by this) are not actually stupidly sentimental.

Last Modified 2021-03-29 7:01 AM EDT